Trans-inclusive SF clinic may close its doors in midst of coronavirus epidemic

Trans-inclusive SF clinic may close its doors in midst of coronavirus epidemic
Supporters of the Lyon-Martin and Women's Community Clinic hold signs during Thursday's press conference. | Photos: Sam Lew/Hoodline
By Sam Lew - Published on March 17, 2020.

One of the nation’s leading transgender-inclusive clinics may soon be closing its doors — despite the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. 

On Thursday, over 80 people gathered in front of the Mission's Lyon-Martin Health Services and Women’s Community Clinic (1735 Mission St.) to protest its imminent closure. While there is no set closure date for the clinic, it could happen as early as May. 

“We are here today to take back our clinic,” J.M. Jaffe, Lyon-Martin's former trans health manager, told the crowd. “We will not let it shut down without a fight.” 

Lyon-Martin and the Women's Community Clinic primarily provide services to low-income, uninsured or underinsured transgender people and cisgender women. The two clinics served 3,000 patients in 2019 — an increase of over 70% from the previous year.

For transgender clients, services include hormone therapy for gender transition, trans-affirming gynecologic care, and referrals to trans-sensitive mammography. The clinic offers assistance to clients seeking genital surgery, hair restoration, chest surgery, and body contouring. 

“This is as lifesaving for trans people as insulin is for diabetics,” said Dr. Nick Gorton, who has worked at the clinic for 15 years. 

"The queer and trans community is no stranger to pandemics," said J.M. Jaffee, Lyon-Martin's former trans health manager, at the rally.

Nonprofit HealthRIGHT360, which manages Lyon-Martin and the Women's Community Clinic, told staff in late February that the location would close. Services are set to be consolidated to HealthRIGHT 360’s Integrated Care Center, two blocks away at 1563 Mission St. 

According to Lyon-Martin's staff, that consolidation would mean a 90% reduction in all of its services, with only two half-days per week. The Integrated Care Center's staff aren't currently trained to serve queer and trans patients, and staff say that could create an unsafe environment for both them and their patients.

Many transgender clients say that Lyon-Martin is the only space where they feel safe enough to receive services.

“The clinic saved my life a lot of times," said Jae Cripe, who has been a patient at the clinic for 10 years. "Transphobia makes it hard for people to access care and to know that doctors will treat you with respect and dignity."

The announcement came shortly after health clinic staff unionized under SEIU 1021, which represents healthcare workers, government employees, and nonprofit agencies. 

While HealthRIGHT 360 says it's committed to keeping the services that the community clinic offers, “it’s completely not financially sustainable to do so,” said its communications director, Lauren Kahn. Lyon-Martin and the Women’s Community Clinic are operating at a loss of $800,000 per year.

HealthRIGHT 360 and the two clinics have called on the city to provide funds to keep their doors open for the next two years, while they figure out how to sustain themselves over the long term, or seek alternatives.

The amount of money they’ll need, they say, is close to $1.4 million over two years.

“Without that happening very soon, we’re not going to have a choice but to consolidate,” said Kahn.

Over 80 people, including District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, attend the rally in support of saving the community clinic.

The clinic has at least one key supporter: District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro.

“I cannot allow Lyon-Martin, which has been a part of the queer community in San Francisco for 40 years, to close on my watch," Mandelman said at the rally. "A public health crisis is no time to close care clinics like Lyon-Martin." 

A Hoodline reporter reached out to Mandelman to inquire as to his plans to help fund the clinic, but did not receive a response by press time.

In the meantime, the two clinics have started a GoFundMe account and an Instagram page to assist their efforts to keep their doors open — as they continue to face overwhelming demand.

“I’ve seen so many people pass away because they’re too afraid to go to a clinic,” said Sindura Reddy, Lyon-Martin's community engagement coordinator, noting that the clinic's patients currently face a six-month-long waitlist for mental health services. “This city needs to step up and support trans people.”